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Sugar, (the word stems from the Sanskrit sharkara) consists of a class of edible crystalline substances including sucrose, lactose, and fructose. Human taste-buds interpret its flavor as sweet.

Originally a luxury, sugar eventually became sufficiently cheap and common to influence standard cuisine. Britain and the Caribbean islands have cuisines where the use of sugar became particularly prominent. Sugar forms a major element in confectionery and in desserts. Cooks use it as a food preservative as well as for sweetening.

Table sugar (sucrose) comes from plant sources. Two important sugar crops predominate: sugarcane (Saccharum spp.) and sugar beets (Beta vulgaris), in which sugar can account for 12% to 20% of the plant's dry weight. Some minor commercial sugar crops include the date palm (Phoenix dactylifera), sorghum (Sorghum vulgare), and the sugar maple (Acer saccharum).

The first production of sugar from sugar-cane took place in India. Alexander the Great's companions reported seeing "honey produced without the intervention of bees" and it remained exotic in Europe until the Arabs started cultivating it in Sicily and Spain. Only after the Crusades did it begin to rival honey as a sweetener in Europe. The Spanish began cultivating sugar-cane in the West Indies in 1506 (and in Cuba in 1523). The Portuguese first cultivated sugar-cane in Brazil in 1532.

The European Union (EU) has become the world's second-largest sugar exporter. The Common Agricultural Policy of the EU sets maximum quotas for members' production to match supply and demand, and a price. Europe exports excess production quota (approximately 5 million tonnes in 2003). Part of this, "quota" sugar, gets subsidised from industry levies, the remainder (approximately half) sells as "C quota" sugar at market prices without subsidy. These subsidies and a high import tariff make it difficult for other countries to export to the EU states, or to compete with the Europeans on world markets.

The United States sets high sugar prices to support its producers, with the effect that many former consumers of sugar have switched to corn syrup (beverage-manufacturers) or moved out of the country (candy-makers).

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